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Texas Tick Fever Eradication
aka: Tick Eradication
aka: Dipping Vats

From 1907 to circa 1943, Arkansas was a participant in the federal tick eradication program for the prevention of Texas tick fever among the state’s cattle herds. Arkansas’s climate and traditional agricultural practices among stockmen in the early twentieth century were perfect for the spread and sustenance of boophilus-annulatus (also known as the cattle tick), one-host arachnids that completed their life cycle on a single animal. These ticks would acquire protozoan parasites by ingesting the blood of an animal infected with pathogens that destroyed red blood cells. After the engorged tick dropped off the host and laid eggs, the newly hatched ticks would pass the pathogens on by attaching to another host, thus conveying parasitic blood diseases babesiosis and anaplasmosis.

These diseases resulted in compromised health, weight loss, infertility, reduced milk production, and death. These symptoms caused monetary losses for the farmers and the rejection of their cows in the national market. Nineteenth-century cattle drives through Arkansas from Texas were blamed for the introduction of the tick; however, pre–Civil War accounts of the inferior condition of Southern cattle raised the theory that the cattle tick could have existed in the state prior to the drives.

A pre–Civil War cattle industry existed in Arkansas, and graziers traditionally allowed cattle to range free. The variable winter weather, humid conditions, and woody hills and valleys of Arkansas were conducive to the survival and proliferation of adult egg-laying ticks, sometimes allowing them to subsist through the winter and pose a significant threat of infection into the next summer. Experiments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted in 1869 led to the discovery that the tick in Texas thrived on the same climatic conditions as those in Arkansas.

The Texas fever quarantine line for the prevention of contact between Southern and Northern cattle was established in 1891. The line encompassed several southwestern and southeastern states and all of Arkansas. Federal regulations stipulated that cattle transported north of the line could not travel overland but rather had to travel via rail or boat during the months between January 15 and November 15. Slaughtering was to take place immediately, and no cattle were to be held within the quarantine line. In 1906, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) of the USDA, along with state and county authorities in quarantined areas, began a cooperative campaign to eradicate the cattle tick. Experimentation in various forms of tick eradication was commenced with a federal appropriation. The method found to be most efficient was dipping the cattle in a solution poisonous to the tick. As of 1914, it was declared by the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station that “[t]he system of constructing dipping vats and systematically dipping cattle has passed beyond the experimental stage.” At that time, dipping vats had been constructed in three-fourths of Arkansas counties by individuals or by groups of farmers, indicating growing acknowledgement of the efficacy of the program.

Two federal eradication districts were established in Arkansas in 1915: the Northeast District east of the White River and the Northwest District west of the river. Eradication work began in the northern area, specifically Benton and Washington counties in the northwest. These counties were two of five that were originally above the federal quarantine line, but they experienced periods of moderate seasonal infestation, so the government worked south from the line, creating a clean route for importation of tick-free cattle. County municipalities wishing to join these districts were required to petition their senators and representatives, as were residents of the counties who wanted to form a separate district. All stockmen in those areas helped finance the program by paying a five-cent-per-head annual tax. Once a county was accepted into a district, twenty-five to forty concrete dipping vats would be situated in such a way that no farmer would have to travel over three miles to get to them.

The independent nature of Arkansas stockmen and the perceived hardships imposed by the program led to resistance throughout the history of enforced cattle dipping in the state. Obstructionist forces known as “kickers” caused trouble for pro-dipping groups, government agents, and vat owners through violence, destruction, and protesting in the local newspaper. The most harmful efforts began in earnest in the early twentieth century mainly among small-scale farmers who did not have the education or economic resources to effect changes at the government level. Their frustrations were expressed by refusal to dip, dynamiting dipping vats, arson of property belonging to pro-dippers and government employees, and verbal threats against those groups—threats that eventually escalated to assault or murder. Destruction of vats continued into the mid-1930s, but over the active years of the program, the dispersal of information by the government regarding dipping led to more widespread acceptance, and many who were initially skeptical were persuaded of the economic benefits of tick eradication.

Fifteen counties in the northwest and northeast tier of Arkansas managed to rid themselves of the ticks by 1907 and obtain disease-free status. Funds required by the federal government to officially release an area from quarantine and appoint line riders to guard against re-infection in the free zones were raised by individuals, cattle growers’ associations, and the Bureau of Mines, Manufactures and Agriculture. Realizing the goal of becoming a free zone would mean that cattle from the area would be worth more on the market. Stock from quarantined areas could not be held and were made immediately into canned beef, which brought less money than those that could be held by the buyer in order to bring them up to prime market standards. Hides from quarantined cattle were also worth half the price per pound of free zone stock. Most of the remainder of the state was placed above the quarantine line by 1928. The cattle tick was considered to be eradicated from Arkansas and the United States by around 1943, but voluntary dipping continued, some vats being used in south Arkansas up to 1960.

Cattle-dipping vats offer architectural evidence of the federal tick eradication program. Examples of these simple structures may be found on private farmland or within the current boundaries of national forests throughout Arkansas. The concrete vats and associated dripping pads are usually the only remnants of such operations, as other elements such as loading chutes, pens, and vat cover supports would have been primarily wooden. An example of the typical concrete dipping vat may be viewed in Pottsville (Pope County) at Rankin Park on East Ash Street. Erected on the Rankin property circa 1915, the vat was an important official dipping center. In later years, it was filled in but was rediscovered by workers with the City of Pottsville who excavated it and made the vat a centerpiece of their park and historic downtown.

Owners of vat remains and archaeologists have been cautioned of the continued threat of arsenic poisoning around such resources. Although much of the toxic ingredients were dispersed into nearby water sources, some, such as sulfur and creosote, can remain in the soil. Vats were supposed to be recharged and the dip recycled at the beginning of the dipping season, but there is the possibility that the solution was simply left to leach into the ground as vats fell into disuse. Modern owners and archaeologists are encouraged to perform testing of soil samples of the site before further investigation.

Cattle ticks remain a problem for stockmen around the world, but modern solutions such as vaccinations and spraying are used in concert with the traditional dipping of cattle, which has reduced the infestation to a manageable level and aided in stabilizing the cattle market. 

Several extant Arkansas cattle dipping vats have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their connection with efforts to eradicate tick fever in the state. They are the Pottsville Dipping Vat at Pottsville (Pope County) and Sumner White Dipping Vat near Hamburg (Ashley County), listed on March 2, 2006; the Cogburn Dipping Vat at Black Spring (Montgomery County), Dooley Dipping Vat at Boles (Scott County), Guinn Dipping Vat at Mauldin (Montgomery County), and Square Rock Dipping Vat at Waldron (Scott County), listed on June 7, 2006; and the Gregory Dipping Vat near Lake Village (Chicot County), listed on September 20, 2006.

 

For additional information:
Coleman, Roger, Michael Pfeiffer, and Meeks Etchieson. “Texas Fever and Free Range Herding in Arkansas: Material Culture of the Federal Tick Eradication Program.” Paper for presentation at the 1996 annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology. Cincinnati, Ohio, 1996.

Eddleman, Janice Bufford. “Who Killed Grandpa Charley?: The Independence County Tick War and the Murder of Charles Jeffrey.” Cleburne County Historical Journal 38 (Winter 2012): 70–80.

Ellenberger, W. P., and Robert M. Chapin, “Cattle-Fever Ticks and Methods of Eradication.” Farmers’ Bulletin 1057. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1919.

Gow, R. M. “Tick Eradication in Arkansas.” Farmers’ Bulletin 119. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1914.

———. “Tick Eradication Laws and Regulations of the State of Arkansas.” Farmers’ Bulletin 132. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1917.

Haygood, Tamara Miner. “Cows, Ticks and Disease: A Medical Interpretation of the Southern Cattle Industry.” Journal of Southern History 52 (November 1986): 551–556.

Hope, Holly. “Dip That Tick: Texas Tick Fever Eradication in Arkansas, 1907–1943.” Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2007. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.org/pdf/publications/Tick_Fever_Context.pdf (accessed May 29, 2007).

Lenton, W. “Tick Eradication in Arkansas in 1907.” Farmers’ Bulletin 101, Part II. Fayetteville: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1907.

Mohler, John. “Texas or Tick Fever and its Prevention.” Farmers’ Bulletin 258. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1906.

Mosier, Susan. “The 1922 ‘Tick War’: Dynamite, Barn Burning, and Murder in Independence County.” Independence County Chronicle 41 (October 1999–January 2000): 3–22.

Perkins, J. Blake. “The Arkansas Tick Eradication Murder: Rethinking Yeoman Resistance in the ‘Marginal’ South.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 70 (Winter 2011): 363–397.

Strom, Claire. Making Catfish Bait Out of Government Boys: The Fight against Cattle Ticks and the Transformation of the Yeoman South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009.

Wilcox, Ralph. “Pottsville Dipping Vat.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form, August 16, 2005. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Holly Hope
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 12/19/2013

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